Subject Tests and SAT Essays: An unnecessary hassle

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The College Board is prevalent in students’ high school careers, offering a wide range of tests and prep services. (Photo/Kayla Rubenstein)

The College Board offers many standardized and college-level tests including all AP exams, the PSAT and the SAT. It is nearly impossible to get into a top-ranked college without taking any AP courses, and while the ACT is a viable replacement for the SAT, receiving a good score on the PSAT is the only way to become a National Merit Scholar. Because of this, many students are familiar with the College Board, but, as with almost all things, the coronavirus affected the College Board, too. With pressure on the College Board to make SAT testing more accessible, they decided to permanently cancel the SAT essay and subject tests.

Historically, the SAT includes a mandatory essay, but in recent years, the essay has become optional, with most colleges opting not to require it. Due to the pandemic, Class of 2021 high school seniors applying to colleges did not have to submit SAT scores for most college applications, making the test, and thus essay, defunct. While the SAT score requirement is expected to be reinstated for most colleges (some, like the UC system, have opted to stay test optional until 2022 and test blind, meaning they will not accept any scores whatsoever, going forward), the essay, which already cost students more money to take despite not being widely used, got cancelled permanently by the College Board. 

Some teachers and students may feel upset at the change, but ultimately, this was for the best. Taking an unnecessary, more expensive and time-consuming portion of the test only serves to waste both the student’s and the grader’s time. There are very few colleges that do not require admission essays, so if your strength is essay writing, you can demonstrate that skill through your application instead of the SAT.

“There are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing,” said the College Board in an official statement. “Writing remains essential to college readiness, and the SAT will continue to measure writing and editing skills [with] the tasks on the SAT Reading and Writing and Language tests.”

While the essay cancelling was not much of a surprise, as most colleges already were not requiring it, the discontinuing of subject tests was largely unexpected. Subject tests, multiple choice tests that assessed students in specific areas, were offered to help students strengthen their college applications and prove their mastery of the subject. With 20 subject tests in all, ranging from literature to Latin, hundreds of thousands of students took at least one yearly according to the Princeton Review

Subject tests made money for the College Board, but were cancelled because, according to interim executive director of the Center for Fair and Open Testing Bob Schaeffer, they weren’t “very good from a measurement perspective.” According to the College Board themselves, students prefer taking AP courses rather than subject tests, so they felt it was best to do away with the tests all together. 

“I’m surprised [that the subject tests were cancelled]. They were a good thing that helped kids show they were good in a particular subject without having to do an AP class,” said AP Biology teacher Leya Joykutty. Many of her students took the biology subject test and put it on their college applications. She continued, “On the other hand, it’s also one less test that kids have to take, and it will help kids save some money. Sending scores was an expensive endeavor for kids applying to college.”

The fee for one subject test registration was $26, and that does not include the cost of receiving scores and sending them via college application. For a student who wants to take more than one subject test, the costs can easily pile up, not to mention the amount of time they would need to study and prepare. While the subject tests were a way to demonstrate understanding of a subject, most of them have an AP class counterpart which may be even better since it is a year-long course that goes on your transcript.

For disappointed students who planned on taking the essay or the subject tests (or both), there are other ways to use those skills. Writing an exemplary admissions essay will help your application stand out, while a range of AP courses will show the admissions team that you are committed to learning about a particular subject.

Ella Gohari, an American Heritage Freshman, is starting her first year as a Patriot Post writer. She is an avid reader and poetry enthusiast who channels her love of words into her work. She has been a part of Science Research since sixth grade, and hopes to combine her passion for writing with her devotion to science. When she isn't researching her newest project or reading a book, you can often find her watching a Marvel movie or scrolling through Reddit.

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